The ultimate guide to buying used CDs, DVDs, and cassette tapes at the thrift store

One of my biggest barriers to ever becoming a true minimalist is my love for hoarding physical media. I’m incurably obsessed with secondhand shopping for CDs and DVDs. Holding a tangible CD or DVD case in my hands makes me feel like an archivist of a waning culture. (And when I’m collecting cassette tapes, a no longer extant culture.) I suppose there’s a nostalgia factor to it, too — maybe it’s a ‘90s/early aughts kid thing, since I grew up during the heyday of Blockbuster stores and Netflix DVD mail-ins. Plus, I just love looking at cover art and being able to enjoy stuff offline!

In addition to being a used book enthusiast, I’ve been slowly building my CD, DVD, and cassette libraries from secondhand finds. As a seasoned secondhand media deal hunter, I wanted to share some tried-and-true tips for thrifting CDs, DVDs, and cassettes. So without further ado, here’s my comprehensive guide to shopping for used media!

Where can you buy used media?

Six feet under dvd set

Buying used media online

If you’re solely browsing for used CDs and DVDs online, eBay is a standard place to start looking since you can search for virtually any title at your fingertips. You can also check out Mercari, Thriftbooks, Ruby Lane, and Facebook Marketplace. That said, I often have the best luck buying secondhand DVDs and CDs on eBay — you can really search for specific titles.

Buying used media at consignment shops

For physical locations, I recommend checking out consignment record and book shops such as Mad Monk Vintage and Half Price Books, since these places feature collections organized by genre and alphabetical order. What’s cool about these stores is that you can also sell your used media to earn cash or store credit.

Buying used media at thrift stores (and other chaotic secondhand places…)

Although they can be a bit chaotic, I love digging through thrift stores, flea markets, Friends of the Library book sales, and garage sales for secondhand CDs and DVDs. You never know what you’ll find — sometimes, there’s a rare Criterion Collection title chilling on a thrift store shelf with a 25-cent sticker! The library is a bit of an odd place to look for media on sale, but you never really know. My local Friends of the Library put out old DVDs and used Blu-Rays for sale all of the time.            

How much do used CDs and DVDs cost?

John prine cds

How much used CDs and DVDs cost largely depends on where you buy them. Generally speaking, they can be dirt cheap at flea markets and thrift stores — think between a quarter to a few bucks. The drawback of buying used media at these places is that the inventory isn’t very organized, so your shopping experience will be something of a treasure hunt. 

Still, you can’t beat the prices. For me, locally, thrift stores that belong to Goodwill Industries of the San Joaquin Valley sell all media items for 25 cents, and I’ve spotted titles like Marie Antoinette, Sleepless in Seattle, Roman Holiday, and more. One of my local charity chains, Hope Chest Thrift Stores, also promotes 25-cent media days. 

This isn’t a guide on how to resell used media, per se, but you could probably make a decent profit while sifting through secondhand DVDs and CDs, especially if you find any special edition sets or rare copies. (My local Mad Monk Vintage sells $1 DVD sets…insane.)  

Still, say you loathe digging through messy shelves and bins. In that case, you can expect to find more curated and organized picks at physical consignment stores and online shops for about a few bucks a pop. I find that used DVDs and CDs are usually no more than 15 bucks when they’ve been vetted or curated, unless they’re exceedingly rare or popular.

How to buy used CDs, DVDs, and more

Reba and Bonnie Raitt

Check the condition of your media

Along with checking the cover or sleeve for gross stains, look at the actual DVD or CD to see if there are any scratches. In some rare and unfortunate cases, you may even find the disc missing altogether!

Be prepared to spend time looking through random titles

While it’s pretty common to find used CDs and DVDs for sale while you’re thrifting, you won’t always find what you want right away. I really can’t be in a grouchy mood while thrifting for CDs and DVDs because browsing used media requires total equanimity. I can’t even begin to describe how many country and Christmas titles I usually have to dig through before I get to a CD I would actually want to listen to. (Though, sometimes I am admittedly in a mood for country or Christmas — I live in the Central Valley, after all.)

Use affordable prices as an opportunity to explore different genres and artists

Would I typically go out of my way to buy a brand new copy of a Reba album? No, but I picked up one of her ancient cassettes while thrifting and discovered that I absolutely love her (beyond “Fancy” and “I’m a Survivor”). What I love about the thrift store is that things come to you rather than you deliberately seeking them out. Of course, the cheap prices can encourage hoarding, so be discerning. (It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.) 

Brace yourself for some duds

I’ll be honest: I’ve definitely bought tapes and CDs that sounded straight-up haunted and distorted. I’ve come to accept the occasional dud as part of the thrifting journey. Of course, you can always try to loosen up a tape or polish a CD, but your triage efforts might not always work out. If you’re planning on reselling something, I’d definitely play it through before listing it.  

You may have noticed that I’ve conveniently left out any mentions of buying used VHS tapes and vinyls. Perhaps in the near future — my dad actually has a VHS player and record player that he’s happy to share, but I haven’t gotten around to using them yet. I’ll keep you all posted! 

I hope that these thrifting tips for buying used DVDs and CDs are of use to the media enthusiasts out there. Even with the advent of streaming, it’s nice to keep physical media that you can listen to or watch over and over again without worrying about Internet connection or titles getting pulled. Whether you love a curated shopping experience or the thrill of a thrift store hunt, I hope you have a wonderful time browsing for used media!